Clint Eastwoods career spans more than six decades, and is one of Hollywoods few luminaries that is equally as renowned for his acting as his directing. Born in 1930 in San Francisco, Eastwoods formative years were spent during the Great Depression, during which his family moved around in search of work. Eastwood has one younger sister (Biography: Clint Eastwood 1). Eastwood worked a series of odd jobs, mainly manual labor, until he was drafted into the army in 1950. During his time in the Army, Eastwood proudly recalls how he managed to skillfully avoid combat in the Korean War by becoming a lead swim instructor (Schickel 50). Eastwood exhibited traits of the proudly rebellious antihero that many of Eastwoods films would later depict.

He was discharged from the Army three years later, after which he moved to Los Angeles and became interested in acting. His rugged good looks are what gained him access to Hollywood despite minimal acting experience, (Biography: Clint Eastwood, 1). After a few bit parts, Eastwood started his acting career in earnest with the television show Rawhide. Starring in Rawhide led to Eastwood being typecast into Western roles as a leading outlaw-protagonist, the quintessential loner cowboy who is full of toughness, courage, and frontier wisdom.

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Eastwood has had a relatively tumultuous love life, which has perhaps added fuel to his depictions of masculinity on screen. In 1953 when he returned from his stint in the Army, Eaastwood married his first wife Maggie Johnson. They had two children together, and although were separated for years, did not divorce until 1984. Eastwood then lived with actress Sandra Locke for ten years (Clint Eastwood Biography, 1). After he and Locke broke up, 1996 Eastwood married a television reporter named Dina Ruiz, and they divorced in 2014 (Clint Eastwood Biography, 1).

Although Eastwood has been somewhat outspoken about his political views, he never used his celebrity status to wield power as a public servant. The only exception is that he did serve as the mayor of Carmel for two years; Eastwood still lives in Carmel. Eastwood at one time aligned himself with Republican values, spoke at the 2012 Republican National Convention, has harshly and openly criticized President Obama, and yet he more recently shifted his attitudes on issues like gun control and same-sex marriage, now declaring himself as a libertarian (Biography: Clint Eastwood 1).

In 1964, while Rawhide was still in production, Eastwood started working with spaghetti Western specialist Sergio Leone. The first film he and Leone did together was A Fistful of Dollars, which was shot in Spain and made Eastwood an overnight star, (Clint Eastwood Biography 1). During the peak of the Western genres popularity, Eastwood continued to star in European productions including For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966). Eastwood then segued into crime dramas, starring in the 1971 film Dirty Harry and its sequels before getting behind the camera.

As a director, Clint Eastwood lacks the status of an auteur, if only because his films span too many different genres and impart so many different tones, moods, and themes. Eastwood has directed Westerns (like The Outlaw Josey Wales), thrillers (like Play Misty for Me), romances (like The Bridges of Madison County), biopics (like Bird) dramas (like Gran Torino), sports dramas (like Million Dollar Baby), action films, films about war, crime dramas, and even films about space. Eastwoods oeuvre is expansive, and therefore it can be difficult to pinpoint elements of continuity in his style. Eastwood has earned two Oscars for Best Director: for Unforgiven (1993) and for Million Dollar Baby (2005).

In 1971, Clint Eastwood made his directorial debut with the critically-acclaimed film Play Misty for Me. Eastwoods style of direction in Play Misty for Me was heavily influenced by Sergio Leone and Don Siegel, both of whom had also directed Eastwood in their own films. From Leone, Eastwood learned the art of meticulous framingwith great attention to both foreground and background depth, whereas his efficiency-based approach, focusing only on the base needs of each scene, efficiency-based approach, focusing only on the base needs of each scene, were pragmatic skills Eastwood learned from working with Siegel (Kozak 1). Play Misty for Me is in many ways a quintessential 1970s-era thriller, and yet it bears the distinct stamp of Eastwoods burgeoning eye for cinema.

Eastwood never lets go of his affection for the Western genre, which is why he did go on to direct several of them himself. The first real Western film Eastwood directed was 1973s High Plains Drifter, which has been described as genre-stretching, as well as tonally playful, (Kozak 1). While interjecting wry or dark humor into the Western genre is not necessarily a novel thing by 1973, Eastwoods ability to envision himself in the leading role allows for a more cohesive narrative on screen. Eastwood also uses High Plains Drifter as an opportunity to stretch his creativity by fusing some elements of Mexican cinema, particularly the fusion of surrealism with the outlaw, drifter, and Western themes.

Eastwood followed High Plains Drifter with a few other Westerns, most notably the classic The Outlaw Josey Wales. On the surface, Outlaw bears most of the marks of the genre. Yet as Kozak points out, the film serves as a fitting Swan Song for the genre, which Eastwood himself reckoned was falling out of vogue by 1976 (1). As a result, The Outlaw Josey Wales is part love song to the Western, part ironic tribute. In terms of lighting, framing, and editing, Outlaw derives much from core genre elements but Eastwood manages to interject a meta-textual dimension that is only present in some of his other movies. Eastwood built upon the success of The Outlaw Josey Wales, returning occasionally to the Western genre for sentimentality and creative sustenance. In 1992, Eastwood directed Unforgiven, a much darker coda to the Western genre than Outlaw. Kozak calls Unforgiven Eastwoods crowning achievement as a director and his game-changing epilogue to an established career in the genre, (1). Eastwoods Westerns are uniquely well-developed because of his extended period acting under the tutelage of the likes of Sergio Leone, and also because of his intimate familiarity with the American frontier ethosboth its positive and negative components.

In 1988, Eastwood directed a film about jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker in Bird. Bird remains one of the few Eastwood films that does not star him in an acting role, and represents a total departure from his previous movies. Yet Bird also highlights one of the essential elements of Eastwoods directorial style, which is the use of jazz in soundtrack. Yet Eastwoods other music drama, Honkytonk Man (1982) blends his Western orientation in cinema with his appreciation for music. Moreover, these films show how Eastwood came to associate most with stories with strong male leads, or stories about individuality, courage, and masculinity. Like Westerns, both Bird and Honkytonk Man can also be considered period pieces, testimony to Eastwoods versatility as director and auteur (Perno 1).

Eastwood took another new turn with The Bridges of Madison County in 1995. While Eastwood had directed romantic movies before, Bridges was his most successful. Starring alongside Meryl Streep, The Bridges of Madison County is not as much of a radical departure for Eastwood as it may seemgiven that his characters stark individualism plays into the brand of masculinity also showcased in Western movies. Likewise, Eastwoods foray into films like Bird and Honkytonk Man might be about music, but they are also character-driven, centering on strong male protagonists. Eastwood rarely allows himself the opportunity to direct female leads with as much rigor, with the most notable exception being Million Dollar Baby (2004). Million Dollar Baby is one of Eastwoods most famous films, partly because it is about a subject that is not given much treatment in Hollywood: female boxers. Hilary Swank stars in one of Eastwoods only attempt at flushing out a female lead without resorting to gender tropes. The film earned Eastwood the Oscar for Best Picture, even though it is not his best attempt at direction given the formulaic nature of the story.

In 1997, Eastwood directed one of his most controversial films: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. One of the few films Eastwood directs but does not act in, Midnight stars Kevin Spacey as Jim Williams and John Cusak as John Kelso. Set in the humid, , , this film is also a major shift in imagery and aesthetics from other Eastwood productions. In fact, the protagonist is also completely different from those Eastwood tends to feature in the movies he directs: an eccentric gay man. Yet Williams shares some characteristics in common with the classic Western-style heroes Eastwood can relate to; he is individualistic, embittered, cares little for rules, and has his own sense of morality. Eastwood captures the atmosphere of Savannah with aplomb, showcasing the directors versatility.

Mystic River takes Eastwood in yet another direction in terms of genre. This 2003 film does have Eastwoods stamp in terms of featuring masculine character development but is packaged as a crime thriller. The film was nominated for a slew of Academy Awards including the one for Best Director. Although Eastwood did not win, his two male costars did: Sean Penn and Tim Robbins for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively. Their accolades were meaningful for Eastwood in the sense that the director was able to coax stunning dramatic performances out of his stars. Unlike more atmospheric films like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil or his Westerns, Eastwood relies mainly on framing, mis-en-scene, timing, editing, and sound editing to create a true character-driven drama, albeit one that also offers audiences a great deal of suspense.

Eastwood might be blunt about his notions of gender roles and norms, but he does not interject his politics too much into his films. One exception to that general rule is in 2008s Gran Torino. In this film, Eastwood presents his typical hegemonic masculinity, only this time he allows himself to explore issues like race and class in America with brutal honesty. He stars as Walt Kowalski, an unapologetic, gun-toting racist who calls his Asian neighbors chinks, never mind that they are not Chinese. Directing this film allows Eastwood to bravely tackle the central social problems in America, and through the lens of an older white male who has been known, in real life, to espouse classic Republican views not dissimilar from those held by Kowalski. Eastwood uses his power as director to show the audience the softer underbelly of racism: to demonstrate that some dogs bark might be worse than their bites, and that they might also be dying breeds. While not necessarily Eastwoods best films, it is certainly one that has been underrated in terms of what it adds to his repertoire and what it says about his courage as a director.

Finally, Eastwood has shown himself to be capable of directing war films: which require a totally different approach to cinematography than more narrowly-focused character films like Gran Torino or Million Dollar Baby. With The Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, Eastwood definitely marks himself as a representative of his generation. With these films, he seems determined to offer his own perspective on World War Two. Both the with the close-ups that profile the protagonists in these films are somewhat aligned with those of his Westerns, and thematically there are also remarkable similarities in the portrayal of masculine heroism. Eastwoods childhood spent during World War Two makes these subjects as near and dear to him as his depiction of similarly familiar issues impacting American society.

While Eastwood rarely reaches the level of auteur, his films do share some elements in common. Eastwood is interested in individualistic heroes who play by their own rules. Most of his heroes are also underdogs in some way (Perno 1). Alternatively, Eastwood loves to depict an American icon, (Ebert 1). He also appreciates Americana in all its many manifestations: from the jazz and country music scenes he depicted in Bird and Honkytonk to the heterosexual romances of Bridges of Madison County, from the wartime heroism of Flags and Iwo Jima to the racial tension evident in Gran Torino, Eastwood appreciates American culture, values, and history. All of Eastwoods films carefully blend setting and character, and in many, setting is a characterparticularly in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and in Unforgiven. As Perno points out, Eastwood also draws heavily from the aesthetics of Westerns not just in the ways he captures scenery but also characterswith the most salient feature being his frequent use of low-angle shots that literally make the audience look up to the character, (1). Finally, audiences might not necessarily appreciate the way Eastwood manages his resources behind the camera. He is known for his efficiency, his frugality, and his discipline (Perno 1). Eastwood also owes much to Leone, both in terms of his acting and directing, which have been indelibly marked by Leones films, particularly in their ritualized, stylized, and heavily gestured masculinity, (Smith 8). Eastwood imbues each of his films with the paradoxes of gender performativity.

His treatment of women on screen has been understandably criticized, with several of his movies including rape scenes and gratuitous assault (Kozak 1). Eastwood also directs a mainly white male cast in his films, reflecting his problematic role as a white patriarch in an American society that is slowly but surely challenging the efficacy of outmoded social hierarchies. To his credit, Eastwood as director and even as auteur does seem keenly aware of the problems inherent in hegemonic masculinity and whiteness. Not just in Gran Torino but in several other Eastwood films, the director makes sure to express his discomfort with his own generation and its problematic social norms.

Eastwood also knows how to construct and depict antiheros in ways that do not permit the film as a whole to crumble into despair and pessimism. Not part of his signature style necessarily, his affection for antiheroes is not evident in all of his movies. Nevertheless, films like Unforgiven Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and Gran Tornio encapsulate Eastwoods approach to the male antihero: someone who is unable to actually overcome his faults and go on to achieve greater things. As a director, Eastwood manages to engender audience trust and empathy with the antihero by capitalizing on the power of moral ambiguity. Many of his heroes are more classical in nature, and their corresponding films are constructed to be more morally binary with clear demarcations between good and evil. Midnight is certainly not one of those, but Million Dollar Baby is.

Eastwood has earned accolades beyond those issued by the Academy. President Clinton honored Eastwood with the Kennedy Center honors, and Eastwood was even appointed to the State of Californias Park and Recreation Commission (Clint Eastwood Biography 1). Because of so many elements of his filmmaking: its exploration of multiple facets of American culture, its being firmly anchored in American styles and traditions stemming from Westerns, and its frank treatment of characters much like himself, Clint Eastwood has contributed tremendously to Hollywood.






Works Cited


Biography: Clint Eastwood. https://www.biography.

Clint Eastwood Biography. Encyclopedia of World Biography. http://www.notablebiographies..html

Ebert, Roger. Reviews: Gran Torino. 2008.

Kozak, Oktay Ege. The 10 Best Films Directed by Clint Eastwood. Paste. 2018.

Perno, G.S. Directors trademarks: Clint Eastwood. 2016 Cinelinx.

Schickel, Richard. Clint Eastwood: A Biography. New York: Vintage.

Smith, Paul. Clint Eastwood: A Cultural Production. London: Regents of the University of Minnesota, 1993. Digital version: